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Western Press Review: Power Struggles in The Kremlin

By Katarzyna Wysocka

Prague, 25 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary discusses Russian President Boris Yeltsin's health and the resulting power struggle in the Kremlin.

LE FIGARO: Boris Yeltsin is politically dead, but the seat of power is not vacant

An editorial signed by Charles Lambroschini in today's edition of the French newspaper says: "Boris Yeltsin is politically dead. But neither his heir apparents nor his adversaries are ready to declare that the seat of power is vacant. While the Kremlin medics are to meet today to decide at least if the Russian president can stand a heart operation, the candidates for his succession have one single idea on their minds -- to gain time." The editorial concludes: "Nobody wants to exploit Yeltsin's 'disappearance' and arouse the crowd on the street. As history has shown, according to the old adage, the patient Russian people can turn into a wild boar. Even the communists remember the horror of the revolution."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Yeltsin can't control the wrangling among his successors from his bed

In a news analysis in today's paper, Dietmar Ostermann writes: "Whether the Russian president will in fact recover his health fully after a successful operation, as his doctors promised him, now seems questionable in the light of the latest revelations. Earlier, the medics had promised him at least five more years at the height of his powers. But if the operation really is postponed by two months, Russia would remain practically without leadership until well after the end of the year. If the operation is canceled altogether, there could be four years of confusion ahead. (Although, there have been suggestions that Yeltsin resign, he) would be very unlikely to do any such thing; he would be a newly elected president on stand-by. He could not very well control the wrangling among his would-be successors from his bed."

POLITIKEN: Russian politics have become more open than our own

The Danish newspaper editorialized yesterday: "What confuses the West is that, in a way, Russian politics have become more open than our own. Recent statements about the health of President Yeltsin point in the same direction. While the state of affairs was kept secret for a long time, Russian doctors now speak out in a way that hardly would be permissible in a Western democracy." The editorial continues: "If (Yeltsin) dies or is forced out of office, there is no way other than new elections. But in the follow-up to the current power struggle, the outcome of these will be far from clear."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: None of the leading presidential candidates is dovish on foreign affairs

Adrian Karatnycky is president of Freedom House, a Washington, D.C.-based policy institute. In today's edition, he comments: "As a frail President Boris Yeltsin awaits coronary bypass surgery, a fierce struggle for power has erupted at the highest reaches of the Kremlin. This is a natural result of Mr. Yeltsin's policy of filling his government with political rivals, ensuring that he would serve as the essential arbiter between the clashing interests of democratic reformers and the nomenklatura. With Mr. Yeltsin physically debilitated, these factional rivalries have now spun out of control in an endless cycle of contradictory signals and false starts on key policy issues." Karatnycky continues: "The West should be discouraged by the fact that none of the leading presidential candidates is dovish on foreign affairs. No matter who succeeds President Yeltsin, Russia is likely to continue a wide-ranging program aimed at rebuilding its geopolitical power."

NEW YORK TIMES: Russia should not slip backward in its progress toward democracy

The paper editorialized yesterday: "Russia faces a potentially volatile period of political uncertainty. Though less visibly turbulent than earlier crises, including the failed 1991 coup attempt, this period could prove no less important in determining whether Russia makes a successful transition to democracy." The editorial concludes: "Washington's relations with Moscow are already partly paralyzed by the power void in the Kremlin, and that will only get worse if lines of authority are not more clearly defined and Chernomyrdin fails to exercise the new authority he has. For Russians, the cost of confusion could be severe. After moving so far toward democracy in the last five years, Russia should not slip backward because its leaders are fighting for power under an ailing president."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Lebed is considered the front runner in the battle for succession

In today's paper, Carol J. Williams says in a news analysis: "Even a decade after the advent of glasnost (openness), the Kremlin is moving with baby steps toward being truthful with the public." Williams adds: "Yeltsin has already handed over some administrative powers to Chernomyrdin for the duration of his treatment but has retained control of the 'nuclear button.' And while state-run media cast Yeltsin as the figure still in charge, the president's incapacitation is believed to be fostering a power struggle between Chernomyrdin and Security Council chief Alexander I. Lebed. If Yeltsin were to step down or die before completing his new four-year term, Chernomyrdin would take over as president but would be required to call new elections within three months. Lebed, whose popularity has soared since he engineered an August 31 peace settlement for Chechnya, is now considered the front-runner in the undeclared battle for succession."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: A government has formed, a war halted, and inflation reduced

In a news analysis in today's edition, Steve Liesman and Betsy McKay write: "The director may be offstage, but the show is going on. Over the past two months -- according to leaks, rumors and news emanation from Moscow -- President Boris Yeltsin has suffered either a heart attack or a stroke and has been able to work only 15 minutes a day. During the same period, however, a new Russian government has been formed, the Chechen war for independence has been halted, and inflation has sunk to its lowest level since the country put its economic reforms in motion."

NEW YORK TIMES: Revelations that Yeltsin had a heart attack deflated pretensions of openness

In today's edition, Michael R. Gordon writes in a news analysis: "Stung by reports that Yeltsin's health is failing, the Kremlin has begun a media campaign to persuade a skeptical nation that the 65-year-old president is still up to the job." Gordon says: "Information is power. And with the Communists asserting that he is too ill to govern, Yeltsin's pose as a stricken yet resilient president is essential for his strategy to maintain his grip on power." The writer continues: "And during the recent trip of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to Moscow, Kremlin officials even disseminated a Brezhnev-like tale of presidential prowess, asserting that the ailing Yeltsin had gone hunting and bagged several dozen ducks." He says: "But the recent disclosure by Yeltsin's surgeon that the president had suffered a heart attack before the election and may need two months of care before he can have a heart operation deflated the Kremlin's pretensions at openness."